By Hailey Chung
“Nothing is impossible with God.” As cliche as it sounds, Calise Teo remembers this verse to be the most powerful truth throughout her journey with cancer. “Until today, this verse rings in my mind as it has spoken deeply to me,” the Malaysian said.
Several months after giving birth to her third child (a daughter), Calise started experiencing sharp pain in her shoulder blade but thought it was just due to her constantly carrying her newborn.
She also felt pain in other parts of her body, and on some nights she had to sleep on a recliner instead of her bed. “I was in intense pain. Everyone, including myself, had thought that I did not have a good confinement,” she said.
A frightening diagnosis
A doctor’s visit, however, revealed a very different story. The computerised tomography (CT) scan of her upper body worried her doctor, who suspected the presence of a malignant tumour.
She was advised to go for a full body scan, and on 11 July 2020, her 37th birthday, Calise was told that she had advanced breast cancer.
It was diagnosed as Stage 4 cancer and the cancer had already spread to her liver, bones, kidneys and spine. When her doctor broke the dreadful news, she remembers falling into a daze.
“Are you sure it’s cancer?” her husband, Chris Tan, asked disbelievingly. Calise’s sisters and mother also struggled to accept the diagnosis, and for a while, her family refused to believe the medical report detailing the hard truth.
“The thought of cancer had never crossed my mind; I’d just delivered a baby and was looking forward to another child in our family. I was so shocked and scared,” she remembered.
Her two sons, Anthony and Aloysius, were 11 and 8 years old at the time. Her daughter, Adalyn, was four months old. “My first thought was, “Wow, this little girl is only a few months old.” I didn’t know what to do,” Calise said, reliving the memory.
With 90% of her spine affected, everything turned chaotic
As the days passed, Calise began experiencing life with cancer.
It was not long before she became unable to do simple daily tasks like dress herself and required a wheelchair to cover distances that she would have been able to walk previously.
“Only 10% of the bone in my spine was not affected by the tumour, so I was required to wear spine support equipment,” Calise said. “The pain was excruciating; it’s honestly difficult for someone who has not experienced such pain to understand.”
She opted for chemotherapy and also returned to work after her two-month maternity leave. At the time, there was a movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia so she was working from home.
“I had to work and take care of the baby, the boys were studying at home and there was no part-time helper that could help us due to restrictions in place. Everything was chaotic. I was in a lot of physical, mental and emotional pain, overwhelmed by many sudden changes,” she recalled.
Learning to let go of guilt, Calise began to see God’s hand at work
As an emotional person, Calise found herself crying and breaking down easily throughout her fight against cancer. It became especially overwhelming when she had to make hard decisions.
For instance, she had harboured the hope of carrying Adalyn more frequently. She also wanted to breastfeed her own precious infant, but her sickness prevented her from doing so.
It was a lesson of letting go and allowing others to step in. After seeing her husband caring for and nurturing Adalyn, she was able to release the ‘mum guilt’ she had struggled with.
“Chris does [parenting] better than me, I learned to leave it to him and of course to God, Who I could trust to definitely make a way through these low valleys,” Calise said.
She also began to see God’s merciful hand at work, for the costs of her medical tests, radiotherapy and chemotherapy were covered by work and personal insurance.
In the midst of the pain, Calise clung tightly to Psalm 23:4 as she fought for her life. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Experiencing the unbelievable: the all-clear
Calise faithfully underwent chemotherapy every three weeks and was supported by prayer from her pastors, elders, chaplain, and other church members.
Every day, Chris and Calise also partook in the Holy Communion, making every effort to keep their eyes on Jesus and trust Him amid their hardships. Death did not cross her mind, because she believed that God would preserve her life and that her time on earth was not yet up.
“Literally, we just prayed [for healing],” Calise shared. “I talked to God and I told Him, ‘If You can move the mountains, what more can You do with these cancer cells?”
And then, four months into her treatment and after four cycles of chemotherapy, the scan came back: all clear.
Calise also began to feel her strength returning. She was able to walk herself into the hospital for treatment instead of using the wheelchair. Slowly but surely, she started sleeping on her bed again instead of the recliner.
Friends expressed surprise at the sudden turnaround. Some even admitted that they were preparing themselves for her passing since her cancer was at an advanced stage.
“My mind was still strong. I felt it was not time yet because my kids are still young, and this is an
assurance that I knew. I told my friends that I never thought of giving up. When they saw me improve and return to my cheerful self, they said it was a miracle. God is just so good,” Calise testified.
If it was not God, then who?
Her speedy healing came as a surprise not just to her friends, but to her doctors as well. As a precaution, her oncologist advised her to complete the ten cycles of chemotherapy. She agreed and continued her sessions.
“But after eight cycles, God told me to ask my doctor to stop. When I relayed this to my doctor, he conceded and so I did not go through the final two cycles. But I am still on targeted, long-term treatment,” she said.
She also continued wearing the spine support equipment for several more months and eventually stopped using it in May 2021.
“People have asked me “What if the cancer comes back?” I believe it is then a journey that I must continue to go through, but so far, it is still clear. If people doubt that God has played a part in my healing, I would say, ‘If it is not God, how can it be effective? My life did not deteriorate but instead, my quality [of life] has improved,’” she said.
Testifying of God’s goodness
Calise and Chris have learned about God’s sovereignty through walking the valley lows and they have gained a deeper understanding of how they can bless others.
For a while, Calise ran an Instagram and Facebook page supporting other cancer patients and survivors. Many simply needed encouragement.
The cancer survivor quotes Romans 5:3-5 which reads: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Calise and Chris have also committed to serving and giving more in their church.
Recently, her family shifted to a bigger house with the intention of opening their doors to church members and teenagers to find solace and community.
“Everyone can die anytime. Sometimes, cancer offers a longer grace period than getting into an accident and passing away in the blink of an eye. I am here today, and my life has been prolonged,” she said, adding that her priorities have shifted to become more God-centred.
“God never told me the reason why I have to go through cancer. I still ask ‘Why me?’ and at times question the need for my sufferings just to glorify Him. However, I will still be faithful to glorify and praise Him,” she said.
Cover Image: Calise (now cancer-free) celebrating Chinese New Year 2023 with three-year-old Adalyn.